What are Psychometrics?

Wednesday, 7 July 2013

The British Psychological Society defines psychometric testing as:

“Any procedure on the basis of which inferences are made concerning a person’s capacity, propensity or liability to act, react, experience, or to structure or order thought or behaviour in particular ways.”

In basic terms, psychometrics are simply a way of measuring psychological traits including personality, attitudes and beliefs and assessing an individual’s aptitude for performing different tasks.

Psychometric testing is often used in recruitment selection to help in assessing a candidate’s suitability for the role and they can also be very useful to aid in developing training and professional development action plans for existing staff.

Psychometric tests can be classified into several different categories. The three main categories are:

Aptitude tests

Aptitude tests are used to measure an individual’s performance and abilities. They are usually categorised into several further test types including:

  • Verbal reasoning – how well the subject understands written concepts and follows written instructions.
  • Numerical reasoning – measures the subject’s proficiency in dealing with numerical figures and performing calculations.
  • Abstract reasoning – judges the subject’s ability to recognise patterns from looking at a set of diagrams and anticipating the next diagram in the set.
  • Spatial reasoning – the subject’s ability to manipulate shapes and visualise spatial patterns such as 3D shapes presented as a 2D diagram.
  • Mechanical reasoning – measuring the subject’s understanding of technical concepts and physical mechanical systems such as gears, levers and pulleys.

Personality tests

Popular psychometric personality tests include the Myers Briggs personality profile and the Keirsey temperament sorter. Personality tests do not have right or wrong answers but allow people to be classified into different personality types such as extrovert versus introvert or leader versus follower.

Personality tests can be very helpful for employers trying to judge if an individual will fit in well with their organisation and for organising staff into teams depending on their work style and temperament.

Interests tests

Interests tests categorise individuals depending on their personal preferences. They can be helpful for identifying suitable careers and for planning career progression. They can also be used in conjunction with personality tests for determining individual fit within a team or organisation.

A brief history of psychometric testing

The field of psychometrics was founded in the 19th century from two main schools of thought.

Sir Francis Galton is often referred to as the father of psychometrics and was inspired by Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”. He theorised that personality traits are passed on to different generations and discussed in his book “Hereditary Genius” how certain psychological characteristics may make some people more genetically “fit” than others. In his research he devised a number of psychological tests and his work was extended by James McKeen Cattell, forming the basis of modern psychometrics.

At the same time, German J.E. Herbart was investigating scientific methods of exploring human consciousness and developed mathematical models of the mind. E.H. Weber and G.T. Fechner built on his early work in experimental psychology and inspired Wilhelm Wundt to found the science of psychology and psychological testing of today.

In the 20th century, many different psychologists explored psychometric testing and theory as a way to measure and define personality types, intelligence, attitudes and beliefs.

These days, it is common for employers to use psychometric testing to judge job applicants on their psychological profile as well as just their academic and professional achievement. Psychometrics can also be used as a basis for personal and professional development.

To find out more about how psychometric testing is used in the business world today, please continue on to read our next article.

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